The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button (Warner Bros): This high profile big budget adaptation an F. Scott Fitzgerald short story stars Brad Pitt as the title character, a man who is born as an old man and ages backwards throughout his life. Directed by David Fincher, from a script written by Eric Roth and Robin Swicord, it also stars Cate Blanchett, Taraji P. Henson, Julia Ormond, Tilda Swinton and Jason Flemyng. Told in flashback, it is an epic tale of one man’s life during the 20th century, from in 1918 to 2005.
On first viewing I admired it more as a technical exercise and was puzzled as to why a director like Fincher was attracted to this material. Why did they alter the original story so much? What were the contemporary references all about? And wasn’t it a bit too similar to Forrest Gump? (also scripted by Roth). However, on second viewing I found it to be a much richer experience – it is essentially a fable about love and loss and gains its power from the central concept of living life backwards.
Far from being a gimmick, it actually becomes a profound way of dramatising the ageing process. Forget the Oscar fuelled hype and snarky critical hate surrounding this film and approach it with an open mind. The makeup, visual effects, cinematography, score and performances make it an unusual and affecting big budget rarity.
Because studios don’t like making expensive dramas like this, Paramount have split costs with Warner Bros, with the latter being the UK distributor. The Oscar nominations and star power of Pitt and Blanchett should give it a top 2 finish at least, even though the length (166 mins) will curb its earnings. [Cert 12A / Nationwide]
Doubt (Walt Disney): In 2005, John Patrick Shanley wrote the hit play Doubt: A Parable, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and Tony Award for Best Play. Now Shanley has directed a film version called Doubt which stars Meryl Streep as Sister Aloysius, the stern principal of a Catholic school in the Bronx during the 1960s, who comes into conflict with a reforming priest named Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman).
A strong supporting cast includes Amy Adams and Viola Davis and although at times it is a little too stagey, the strength of the original play shines through and gives the impressive cast a chance to flex their considerable acting muscles. Although some audiences will be left frustrated by the climax, it is worth remembering that it contains the very crux of the play and is also what gives it a rich and lasting power. Disney and Miramax will be hoping that upscale audiences will check this out, but it faces tough competition from Benjamin Button and other awards season fare. [Cert 15 / Nationwide]
Bolt (Walt Disney): The first film from the rejuvenated Walt Disney Animation Studios headed by Pixar supremo John Lasseter tells the story of a dog named Bolt (voiced by John Travolta) who doesn’t realise that the TV show he stars in isn’t actually real. Also featuring the voices of Miley Cyrus, Malcolm McDowell, Susie Essman and Mark Walton, it was directed by Chris Williams and Byron Howard.
The effect of Lasseter overseeing this film has had a marked on effect on the animation and writing, which contains similar levels of wit and emotion apparent in the best Pixar movies. Added to this, is the impressive Dolby 3-D which is less gimicky than recent films like Beowulf, instead featuring a more organic visual approach. Disney can be hopeful that family audiences will power this to the top slot despite it being a very busy weekend at the UK box office. [Cert PG / Vue West End & Nationwide]
* Listen to our interview with John Lasseter about Bolt *
He’s Just Not That Into You (Entertainment): A romantic comedy squarely aimed at female audiences based on the self-help book of the same name by Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo, which, in turn, was based on a line of dialogue in Sex and the City. The ensemble cast is impressive: Ben Affleck, Jennifer Aniston, Drew Barrymore, Scarlett Johansson, Justin Long, Jennifer Connelly, Ginnifer Goodwin, Kevin Connolly and Bradley Cooper.
The plot revolves around the romantic misadventures of several individuals in their twenties and thirties and the common thread is that one person in each relationship is more enamored with the other person. Directed by Ken Kwapis it looks likely to ensnare gullible females but the lack of marketing buzz and mixed reviews would appear to be ominous signs for its box office potential. The recent remix of the trailer with the Christian Bale meltdown might actually be funnier than the film. [Cert 12A/ Nationwide]
Punisher War Zone (Sony Pictures): A fairly unnecessary reboot for the Marvel Comics vigilante The Punisher. British actor Ray Stevenson replaces Thomas Jane as Frank Castle and in this story wages a one-man war against a horribly disfigured mob boss known as Jigsaw (no, not the Saw villain) played by Dominic West. Lionsgate tried to ressurect this a superviolent anti-superhero franchise but it failed at the US box office and Sony (who have UK distribution) will have to look to ancillary markets to find any profit. [Cert 18 / Nationwide]
The Secret Of Moonacre (Warner Bros.): An adaptation of the novel The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge, which is set in the 1840’s and follows Maria Merryweather (Dakota Blue Richards), a 13 year old orphan on her journey to the mysterious Moonacre Manor in the West Country. There she discovers that she is the last Moon Princess and she has only until the next full moon to undo the misdeeds of her ancestors and save the Moonacre estate. Although some talented actors such as Tim Curry, Ioan Gruffudd, and Natascha McElhone feature in the supporting cast, this faces a struggle to capture family audiences with Disney’s Bolt looking to be dominant film for that market this week. [Cert U / Nationwide]
Vicky Cristina Barcelona (Optimum Releasing): After making the worst film of his career, Woody Allen returns with his best in years, a witty and sparkling tale of two American women, Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) who spend a summer in Barcelona and both fall for a local artist (Javier Bardem) who has an angry ex-wife (Penélope Cruz). Not only is it smarter than his recent outings but it contains some truly marvellous performances, especially from Bardem and Cruz. [Cert 12A/ West End venues / Regions from 13th Feb]
IN SELECTED RELEASE
The Good, The Bad and The Weird (Icon): The story of three Korean outlaws in 1930s Manchuria and their dealings with the Japanese army and Chinese and Russian bandits. Directed by Kim Ji-woon, it stars Song Kang-ho, Lee Byung-hun, and Jung Woo-sung. [Cert 15 / Cineworld Shaftesbury Ave & Key Cities]
Who Killed Nancy? (Soda Pictures): A limited release for a documentary exploring the death of Nancy Spungen, an ex-prostitute, sometimes stripper, heroin addict, and girlfriend of Sex Pistols’ bassist Sid Vicious. Directed by Alan G Parker. [London venues & Key Cities]
> UK Cinema Releases for February 2009
> Get the latest showtimes for your local cinema via Google Movies
> Check out our latest DVD picks (W/C Monday 2nd February)